The Strange Case of Assange, Horowitz, and Zizek
Wag the dog too much and the dog wags you.
I am of several minds about this, so I am going to lay out my own dialectical movements:
Thesis: Assange is increasingly moving from critique of spectacle through transparency to counter-spectacle. One of the strange things about Wikileaks is how obvious most of the information it leaked was and how if anyone had paid attention to the news most of it, although admittedly not all, would come as no surprise. Indeed, “We share the worlds secrets” seemed strange to me since most of them were open secrets, but whose confirmation is so threatening that Assuage is threatened with deportation and torture like that of Bradley Manning. Yet in watching this view, I noticed how much “liberalism” in both the good and bad sense of there is by Assuage’s framing here. Literally, he seems to be mirroring (or maybe parroting) the spectacle of CNN and BBC.
As my friend David Rylance said about this clip:
“It’s disturbing actually how manipulative *and* naive, simultaneously, the liberal-democratism Assange basically represents, whether he realises it or not, can get. On the one hand, it evinces this (theoretical) moral idea, this *principle*, that everyone ought to be given a platform for speech (though usually this just means the Right) but it also couples this with a subtextual (and what it thinks is sly) “fixing” of the game, stacking the deck with an undertow of expectation that the intellectuality of the “democratic value system” will carry the day, and encounters utter bafflement + learns nothing when they find themselves outsmarted at their own game. See, for instance, when Horowitz fumes about “settling their hash” in Iraq and “occupying them for years [who knows exactly who he's referring to here, since, uh, that *happened* in Iraq]“, Assange’s blinking response: “David, I mean, this is an incredible statement, though…” Wow, what a response, how, uh, polite. Liberalism.”
So I see Assange as representing a kind of “current traditionalism” of liberalism: transparency will keep governments honest in the same way force does.
Counter-thesis: It seems completely short sighted to condemn Assange for his tacit liberalism as we all operate in a world with assumptions out of the center of the revolutionary periods at the medieval ages and increased means of production and liberalization of ideas. It also seems like there is something very radical about the liberal notion of transparency being applied. I mean there is a reason people want Assange’s ass. Perhaps this parroting is actually deliberate ways to call attention to contradictions. In the same way Zizek plays the clown, Assange could be playing the liberal. Or, he may very well be that liberal but there is radicalism to keeping liberalism honest.
Sublation: We need a thousand more Assange’s even if he is merely a liberal pointing out how illiberal liberal society has become. Whether or not it is just a strategy or a sincere belief based on an abstract notion is actually somewhat irrelevant. Yet we also need to be weary that counter-institutions can mirror the institutions they are countering easily. An inversion often still accepts the basic legitimacy of the structure. So we need Assanges for our Assanges too.